Category Archives: English history

Free ebook: Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester: A Biography by K.H. Vickers is an exhaustive scholarly study that entertains and fascinates


It’s been 600 years since he was born and lived, and we’re still talking about him. Academics continue to study him, tirelessly combing through the brittle, yellowed pages of antiquity, churning out doctoral dissertations and thesis papers – yet few can agree if he was actually “The Good Duke” or one of the most despicable figures in English history.

Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester, was the youngest son of King Henry IV, and the ever-loyal brother and lieutenant of Henry V. Born in 1390 and died in 1447, Humphrey remains among the most confounding and enigmatic personalities ever to stride across the stage of history.

Pinning down the essential nature of the Duke is a task of monumental difficulty. That’s what makes this 600-page exhaustive study of Humphrey by British Prof. Kenneth H. Vickers an extraordinary academic achievement. Vickers gave it his all. He vigorously attacks the problem of defining Humphrey page after painstaking page. He provides a voluminous bibliography of cited sources that is almost half as long as the text itself. A muscular appendix expands on additional issues.

Vickers’ conclusion? Duke Humphrey probably deserves his lasting reputation as “The Good Duke,” among certain segments of English society, high and low. However, the greater measure of the man is represented by his numerous, sometimes shocking failings.

Duke Humphrey was greedy, power mad and an ego maniac. His lusts for fame and wealth were without limit. He could be cruel and wildly impetuous, but also witty, personable and charming. He was brilliant — yet completely unable to sustain a long-term effort – be it in war, politics or devotion to a single woman. He lived to be flattered and adored by his court of groveling sycophants; his sexual hunger for the opposite sex is legendary.

Yet, Vickers manages to uncover Duke Humphrey’s saving grace: His burning love of literature and learning. Despite his repulsive and repugnant character flaws, Vickers credits Humphrey with nothing less than bringing the Renaissance to England, and delivering his country from the cloying cobwebs of the Dark Ages. If it wasn’t for Duke Humphrey, Vickers says, England may have remained mired in ancient ignorance for decades to come.

Humphrey single-handedly thrust England out of darkness and into the light by his aggressive sponsorship of Italian intellectuals. Somewhere along the line, Humphrey developed an insatiable love of the ancient Greek and Roman texts that were exploding on the scene after being lost for centuries in medieval anti-intellectualism.

At great personal financial cost, Humphrey commissioned a small army of brilliant Italian writers and linguists to translate into Latin, French and English the works of Plato, Virgil, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Lucretius and dozens of others. These translations were sent by the hundreds to Humphrey in England where he read them with great relish – but then he breathed new life into the local academic community by donating hundreds of volumes to what had become a backward, calcified and stagnant Oxford University – the primary body of learning on the British Isles.

Today it might seem difficult to comprehend that the donation of a few hundred books could be an act of real significance; however, the printing press was still a few decades away. Books were hand-made and hand-lettered by scribes. The production of a single book involved hundreds of man-hours – and those who were literate enough to do the job were rare members of society indeed. Thus, books were objects of rarity and enormous value.


Also, consider that no one – perhaps not so much as a single person –in England was capable of reading — not to mention translating — ancient classical Greek. For this, Duke Humphrey had to rely on the distant Humanist scholars of Italy. Merely the logistics of finding them, contacting them, making deals with them and arranging for translated books to be shipped to England was a remarkable undertaking. No one else was interested in doing it. It was Duke Humphrey who made it happen.

The historic effect of this effort is still rippling through British society today, Vickers claims (keeping in mind this book was first published in 1907). Thus, it would be impossible to overestimate the service The Good Duke paid to all of Britain.

But, ah, alas, despite this priceless everlasting boon bequeathed upon the Sceptered Isles by the hand of Humphrey, the rotting stench which clings to his reputation can never be scrubbed clean – nor should it be.

It was his lifelong, undying and illogical support of his brother’s war with France, especially after it was hopelessly and utterly lost, which brought untold tragedy to both realms, not the least of which is the unimaginable suffering inflicted upon hundreds of thousands of common peasants of the French countryside.

If this wasn’t enough, Duke Humphrey’s fantastically insane decision to march an English army to Hainault (or Hainaut) after his semi-legitimate marriage to Jacqueline, Countess of Holland, so that he could claim what he deemed to be his – represents one of the most egregiously rash and ill-advised military blunders of all time. This action also unleashed monstrous cruelties of war upon a land of industrious, innocent, peaceful people who wanted nothing of England but to be left alone.

It was all so unnecessary! The Hainault campaign drained vast sums of treasure from the English coffers, wreaked hideous brutalities upon the prosperous people of The Low Countries– raping, pillaging, killing, burning, ravaging, destruction of cattle and crops – all for the insipid whims and greed of Humphrey!

Today’s historians owe an enormous debt to Professor Kenneth Hotham Vickers for this extraordinary manuscript. Before Vickers brought out this volume more than a century ago, there was yawning gap in the modern record. The life and deeds of one of England’s most prominent princes was languishing in the obscurity of dusty archives.

I made a considerable attempt to find out more about Kenneth Vickers, but precious little is available, at least on the Internet. But perhaps it is fitting that a man who devoted his life to the study and teaching of history be remembered by a great work of history – and Humphrey Duke of Gloucester serves as a magnificent legacy for an exceptional scholar.

NOTE: You can download a free copy of this book here: HUMPHREY

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Free ebook gem: “The Mosstrooper: A Legend of the Scottish Border” by Robert Scott Fittis is a marvelous, authentic document that entertains


Mining the hoary ebook files of Project Gutenberg is like panning for gold. Every once and a while you wash up a shiny nugget. Such is the case with THE MOSSTROOPER: A LEGEND OF THE SCOTTISH BORDER by Robert Scott Fittis.

Fittis was a writer’s writer and a Scotsman’s Scott. Born in 1824 in Perth, Fittis took to his pen early in life; he completed Mosstrooper at the age of just 17. That’s astonishing considering the shimmering quality of this short novel. It should be noted, however, that Fittis revised this work years later after many decades of writing and publishing volumes for local “penny papers.”

The Mosstrooper was originally published in serial fashion, as were just about all of Fittis’ works that eventually became books. Fittis was a master of keeping his audience of fellow Scotts enthralled. I have been unable to find significant ancillary information about Fittis, so I’m uncertain if he achieved recognition beyond his regional popularity. He died in 1903. What’s beyond doubt is that he ascended to the status of legend within his realm – and was widely considered a favorite son of Scotland.

The Mosstrooper is a rather simple tale of tragedy and triumph, knights and damsels, set in late 1400s Scotland. The background scene is what was then the somewhat murky region of what was then the borderlands between England and Scotland. It was a time of powerful lords and barons who were virtual kings in their own right. Although nominally under the sway of the English Crown, they commanded private armies. Disputes among them were a constant source of power games, political maneuvering and war.

This border region produced a mercenary class of soldier called a “Borderer.” They were part outlaw, part Scottish nationalist, opportunistic plunderers, and as Fittis describes them: “ … rough-living, law-defying, rarely out of “sturt and strife.”

The border was also often in dispute not just between England and Scotland, but perhaps even more so among local barons, whether it be Scott against Scott or Anglo against Anglo, and any combination thereof.

What makes Mosstroopers a marvelous book is a deep authenticity engendered by a writer who was a dedicated historian obsessed with researching ancient genealogies, and poring over dusty, yellowed archives, cracking with age. Equally as important: Fittis was an ardent student of the language as expressed in poetry and verse.

Fittis gives us heady doses of the local Scottish brogue, and expertly tunes our ears to the regional enunciations in passages like this:

“Frae sunset to sunset has this hand been feckless as a withered rush,” he said. “In darkness as in licht I ha’e been weak as water. I micht ha’e flung the brat, like a stane, frae the brow o’ a fathomless precipice, never mair to be seen but by the ravens.”

Or here’s another, quoting a “gaberlunzie” which was a kind of itinerant vagabond or hobo of the Scottish countryside:

“It’s a braw and bonnie nicht,” said the begger … “a braw May nicht indeed. Look to the lift – look to the earth – there’s beauty owre a’. See – the parting beams o’ sun linger on the bald, rocky brow o’ yon hill, like a crown o’ glory, while a’ the dell aneath is losing itself in the shadow.”

It’s wonderful. Reading the Mosstroopers is as close as I’ll probably ever get to climbing into an actual time machine and traveling back to the untamed wilds of the English-Scotch borderlands – to a time of knights and barons, bravery and treachery, Scottish heroes and the beautiful maidens who held their hearts.

Ken Korczak is the facilitator of: THE DR. 58 MATERIAL

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